Friday, April 30, 2010

Lesson 1 - Good Grief

While my brother was dying and after he died there were a host of feelings expressed - simply because he came from a large family, which exponentially increased the grieving process. I've learned that: grieving is entirely personal, there's no right or wrong way to grieve, I shouldn't be made to feel bad if I don't grieve the way you grieve, and some aspects of grief are quite common.
I found the Mourners Bill of Rights online, and thought it was quite helpful so I've included it here.
The Mourners Bill of Rights by Dr. Alan Wolfelt
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
5. You have the right to experience ―grief bursts.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
10. You have the right to move forward in your grief and heal.

My brother was the first to die - and I heard this statement so often, "Its hard for a child to pre-decease his parents" that it almost became cliche. But what this statement allowed me to do was cut my parents some slack - particularly my mother. There are many stages to the grieving process - denial, fear and anger being some of them, and to my mind at that point in time these were exhibited by my parents. Watching someone die is hard to deal with, especially at the end. It's probably why I chose not to be there at the end - I didn't know how I would handle it and didn't want to find out. As a parent myself, I would like to think that I may handle things differently, but who knows maybe I would fall apart also.

For the siblings, he was the big brother. A big brother means having someone you can look up to, having someone to go to for advice, having someone to intercede on your behalf to overprotective parents so that you can go to your first track meet, someone who can dispense advice freely because he was consistent in his beliefs. Yes he may have been overbearing at times, but he was big brother. You never know what this means until that person is gone. He had a different relationship with each of the siblings - but there was a relationship. The hardest part seemed to be dealing with the VOID left by his death. At the funeral, I discovered many unknown aspects of my brother's relationship with each of the siblings - a brother always wanted to be like him physically (before scleroderma he looked like a bodybuilder) and professionally (being successful in the financial industry); he was able to accomplish that. A sister said he inspired her, in spite of his illness; he told her to "Live like the Birds - they have no worries yet they are always well taken care of." What I learned was the emotional connection he had with each one that we didn't always communicate while he was here. The stories were told with laughter and poignancy.
There were times when there wasn't much laughter - when everyone was questioning in their own way - why now and why this way? These questions were a manifestation of what he meant to each person and their grief. And so to say it was tenuous at best would be an understatement. Everyone grieves in their own way - some are loud, some quiet; some rant and rave; some internalize; some are quick to accept the circumstances for others it may take awhile; some may feel they have unfinished conversations with one who passed on; some may dream of him and feel his presence. Its all OK. Its all OK.
Grief is good and can be cleansing - and once we go through it and get to the point of healing, it allows us to move on with greater clarity - respectful to each other, being open with each other, communicating in love, and building on what we've learned from our grief and loss. I think sometimes we forget to view things through the lens of grief - recognizing that we've all suffered a loss and who knows when and how that loss may affect us.

I'm also amazed by the compassion of people once they hear of my loss; most seem genuinely sorry as if they too have lost a brother. That humbles me - for I hope that I can express the same depth of emotion if the tables are switched. Basically, everyone wanted to do something - from sending cards, to sending donations to the family, to cooking or just being there for me and praying (which I do not take lightly).

Grief, while intensely personal is something we must go through. Once we have gone through - we are better for it. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. That's the good in our grief.


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